(CN) - The United Nations high court sided with Macedonia in a name conflict with Greece, but declined to say Athens should change its behavior.
Greece violated an agreement by opposing Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008, the International Court of Justice ruled Monday out of The Hague, Netherlands.
In the 1995 accord, the Hellenic Republic agreed to not oppose the Balkan country's membership in the international organization so long as it called itself "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."
Since Greece has its own province called Macedonia, it has taken issue with the name adopted by the Balkan republic.
Slavic peoples began to gradually dominate the Republic of Macedonia beginning in the Middle Ages, though the region was a part of the Greek empire in antiquity. The territory belonged to Yugoslavia as a kingdom, then as the socialist bloc, in the 20th century.
Efforts to form an independent nation reached fruition in 1991 when Macedonia peacefully split off as its own republic. The state calls itself the Republic of Macedonia and is recognized as such by more than 100 countries, including the United States.
Athens itself refuses to use the agreed-upon full name for the country, preferring instead the acronym FYROM.
Greece says the Slavic state should add "north" or "upper" to its name to distinguish it from the Hellenic territory, apparently fearing that the common name will open the door to territorial claims. This is unlikely, however, as Macedonia is a relatively poor country with a weak military.
The 15-1 ruling out of The Hague is largely symbolic, since the U.N. court declined to compel Greece to change its stance on the name issue.
"As a general rule, there is no reason to suppose that a state whose act or conduct has been declared wrongful by the court will repeat that act or conduct in the future, since its good faith must be presumed," court President Hisashi Owada cited.
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